Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Sun, Sand, Surf, And Slumber

Do you ever have those days when it's absolutely necessary to stay awake to get a whole list of things done or one huge project finished, but it's as if some time bandit has stolen whole chunks of hours and given you some kind of sleeping sickness?  No matter how hard you try, you can't stay awake.  Besides, how did it get to be after midnight?  On the flip side there are days when you've worked as hard as possible to get every single thing done, so you could relax and drift off to much-needed rest, only to discover when everything is finished you are as wide awake as an owl.  In fact lots of activity and exercise are supposed to ensure a good night's sleep.

Certainly a day at the beach should equal an early bedtime.  For Lucy and her parents in Twenty Yawns (Two Lions, April 1, 2016) written by Jane Smiley with illustrations by Lauren Castillo a day of fun in the sun does have them eager for slumber.  A silent orb has other plans.

The beach umbrella was flapping in the breeze.

As the wind pushes waves against the beach, Lucy digs a hole in the sand.  She works for so long and hard the hole is big enough for her dad to be buried.  After his sandy release the two enjoy watery fun.

Mom, Dad and Lucy decide to explore the beach walking along the shore, stopping, starting and staring at all there is to see.  There are dunes to climb up and roll down.  The trio is enjoying themselves so much; they hardly notice the sun sinking closer to the horizon.  They are all yawning in earnest now.

At home as dusk darkens the colorful sky Lucy, Mom and Dad get comfy and ready for bed.  Mom barely begins a bedtime story before Lucy drifts into a doze.  When she wakes up Mom is gone but the big round moon is lighting up her room.  Thoughts of sleep leave Lucy as she looks around; every face in every picture seems to be as alert as she is.  There is only one thing to do.

She needs Molasses, her teddy bear.  A quiet quest is in order.  A cupboard is reached, a cascade of critters creates an extended adventure and a ritual is repeated.  Then...one leads to another and another and another.

It's as if all the little bits and pieces of a day at the beach are masterfully entwined into the sentences written by Jane Smiley.  These experiences are as universal as the emotions they generate.  And what child has not suddenly been wide awake when their parents are sleeping?  Smiley's descriptions of Lucy's observations in her home now awash in moonlight are wonderful.  When she seeks a single companion but gathers more, the love she has received is passed on to others with the pure charm of childhood perfectly portrayed.  Here is a sample passage.

The moon shone through the window,
a silver veil that fell across the floor.
Everything looked mysterious, even
Lucy's own hands on the bedspread.
Suddenly, Lucy was wide awake.

Don't you just want to hug Lucy and her toys seen on the matching dust jacket and book case?  Lauren Castillo has taken an interior image altering it slightly for the front illustration.  On the back, to the left, is a visual from within the book shown in a closer perspective; three childlike drawings.  A shade used in the color of the water at the beach covers the opening and closing endpapers.

Rendered digitally with painted textures the pictures placed on thicker matte-finished paper, though detailed, supply a softness enhanced by Castillo's signature heavier loose lines.  All the joy when spending a day at the beach beams from her pages in golden portraits of parents reading in chairs under an umbrella, a child digging in the sand while her beloved teddy bear watches, a father twirling a daughter over the waves, chasing seagulls, kite flying and sand castle building.  When night descends so does a hush in the play of light and shadows.  Single page circular pictures are larger and there are more double-page spreads.  Even though it's night the use of a deeper chocolate brown gentles the darkness.  There is warmth and comfort in every single illustration.

Castillo's eyes and mouths on the characters and the toys are very expressive. The angle of a line and the size of an eye show mood; joy, tiredness, longing, love and pure contentment.  One other thing which I truly admire is the blending of time in a single image.  In a two page spread of the family at the beach Castillo has Lucy's parents walking hand in hand as she runs ahead dropping Molasses, then they pause flying a kite with Molasses now safely carried in the mother's bag and finally the three are walking down the beach linked together, hand in hand.  Lucy is being swung between her parents.  Her mom is swinging Molasses on the left.  I also like the tiny attention given to having a single lamp on in the rooms in Lucy's home during the night.

One of my many favorite illustrations is when all the toys are out of the cupboard.  Lucy is carrying Molasses to her bedroom for company.  As she turns to look back, Juno the horse, Frank the kangaroo and his baby Leonard, Mathilda the alligator and Horner the giraffe are looking at her as if to say, "Aren't you going to take us, too?"  They are placed on a lighter floor which elevates their body positions and presence.

Written by Jane Smiley with illustrations by Lauren Castillo Twenty Yawns is a bedtime story guaranteed to bring multiple bouts of yawning to readers and listeners alike.  It blends two delightful adventures into one glorious story.  I can only imagine that readers will be carrying this book about like one of their beloved toy animals.  It's simply that charming and cuddly.

To learn more about Lauren Castillo and her other books please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo are interviewed at Kirkus about this title.  At the Washington Post Jane Smiley explains her first picture book, 'Twenty Yawns'.  Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher reveals the book cover at Watch. Connect. Read. with a guest post by Lauren Castillo as well as the first post in the blog tour with an interview of Jane Smiley.  For a complete list of all the stops on the blog tour be sure to stop at Alyson Beecher's Kid Lit Frenzy.  Enjoy the book trailer and a collection of Vines Lauren has posted for this book.

UPDATE:  Lauren Castillo is a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast today---April 12, 2016.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

His Vision Took Him Underground

In the early 1860s shortly before the advent of the American Civil War if you were to casually ask someone living in the United States the most common thing found below the ground, I'm fairly certain they would not have mentioned a mode of transportation.  Depending on the age of the person, their status and occupation they might have responded with the next crop of potatoes, pathways created by moles, shrews and earthworms or buried treasure.  If the neighborhood dog could speak human, it would probably have revealed the secret location of a stolen bone.

One city in the United States, New York City, had a huge problem.  The Secret Subway (Schwartz & Wade Books, March 3, 2016) written by Shana Corey with illustrations created by Red Nose Studio reveals how the mind of a brilliant man sought to solve the dilemma.  His efforts as well as the depiction of them in words and images by Corey and Red Nose Studio are quite remarkable.

Welcome to New York City---the greatest city on earth!
You say it looks crowded? Dirty? DISGUSTING?
The streets are filled with GARBAGE?

This was exactly the shape of the city's roadways at this time.  It seemed as if everyone had an idea how to get from point A to point B under safer and cleaner conditions but nothing changed.  One man, a man of vision, had an idea.  His name was Alfred Ely Beach.

He wanted to construct a tunnel and tracks underground which would carry a train powered by a fan...a really big fan.  Beach was sure no one would agree to such a huge undertaking so he proposed building something smaller, something carrying the mail under the city streets.  In the dark of night when everyone else was asleep, even the highest ranking politicians and undeclared ruler of the city, Boss Tweed, Beach had his crews silently haul away much more rocks and dirt than would be accumulated from digging a tube for mail.   He was digging a pathway for his train!

For nearly two months the men worked digging during the day and hauling away at night.  When they reached a dangerous obstacle they carefully persevered.  Eight feet wide and two hundred ninety-four feet long the vision of Beach's dream was finally finished.  In his characteristic style he prepared the basement from which they had been working into a lovely, fashionable waiting room.

On February 26, 1870 the first passengers, invited guests of Alfred Ely Beach, rode a train beneath New York City.  When opened to the public the train whooshed back and forth on the track for months and then several years before politics and money made their move.  When workers again went below digging and hauling in 1912 they made a surprising discovery.

Every minute devoted to research is evident in every sentence written by Shana Corey.  She declares her intentions with the first phrase and follows with the distressing status of the streets at the time.  Then she completely captivates us with the efforts of one man who dared not only to dream but created the opportunity for success.  Through her words we understand the enthusiasm Beach had for this project, the wit he used for thwarting politics and the dedication he had to making something not only safe but first class.  As we read we are inwardly cheering for Alfred Ely Beach.  Here is a sample passage.

Beach was a THINKER---a publisher and an inventor.  His father had owned a newspaper, and Beach had grown up in a simmering soup of letters and words and newfangled notions.  He was also a man of ACTION.  And if there was one thing he loved more than thinking up ideas, it was making them happen.  As Beach studies the street below, the wheels in his brain turned.

When first opening the matching dust jacket and book case readers will be intrigued by the unique, extraordinary images designed and made by Red Nose Studio (Chris Sickels).  With his finger to his lips we are immediately wondering who this man is and what he may or may not share with us.  To the left, on the back, we are still in the tunnel looking at the rear of the train car.  The reverse side of the dust jacket becomes a marvelous nine-step explanation of the illustrative process in a blend of photographs and short captions.  The work performed and the precise attention to detail shown by Sickels are astounding.

The hand-built three-dimensional sets shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR camera are so lifelike you expect the people to start moving and talking along with neighing horses. The line art and lettering was drawn with Hunt pen nibs and Higgins Black Magic ink on paper and inverted blue pencil on paper respectively.  It is hard to resist the temptation to walk right into the pages.

All the pictures span two pages: cityscapes, close-ups of Beach, meetings between politicians and those in control of the city workings as well as the first guests to ride the train, workers in the tunnel and others designing and decorating the waiting room.  Two of the more moving illustrations are when Beach closes his train and the discovery in 1912.  In both the main elements are surrounded by a large portion of black with focused illumination.

Two of my favorite illustrations spanning two pages are placed one above the other horizontally.  At the top we are given an interior view of the first passengers to ride the train in the tunnel with Beach acting as the engineer outside in the front. The six passengers are wearing an array of expressions ranging from awe to fear.  On the ride back they all anxiously await their arrival at the beginning.  It's a slice of history portrayed with excellence.

Assuredly inspirational the story of Alfred Ely Beach as portrayed in The Secret Subway written by Shana Corey with illustrations by Red Nose Studio (Chris Sickels) is a stellar work of nonfiction.  It is an impressive representation of the art of bookmaking, a polished blend of text and images.  Readers will be fascinated from beginning to end.  This title has my highest recommendation.  An extensive author's note provides further information along with a selected bibliography and Internet resources.

To discover more about Shana Corey and Red Nose Studio please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  Red Nose Studio maintains a blog and Tumblr pages.  On his blog is an activity for making your own Secret Subway.  For a look inside at some of the initial interior pages stop by the publisher's website.  This title was reviewed by teacher librarian, former member of the 2014 Caldecott Medal and Honor book committee and blogger Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes.  Educator and author, Monica Edinger, premiered the book trailer at HuffPost Books and followed with interviews on her own blog, Educating Alice.

Please take a few minutes to read about the other selections by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.

Alone But Not Alone

There is beauty in our world, tiny and delicate, huge and overwhelming, every single day.  Sometimes we don't see, hear, smell, taste or touch this beauty even though it appears right before us.  Our hearts are too full of something else.  Those things of beauty, a hummingbird bending to sip nectar from a flower, a doe nudging a fawn, one child helping another child after a fall, an elderly couple reaching out to hold hands, a father rocking a fussy child in the grocery store, a mom whispering to one of the boys in her son's scout troop during a project, a neighbor's cat purring in your garden, the scent of the first lilac blooming or the feel of the sun's rays as it sets purple, gold and pink, will never be exactly the same again.  The beauty in those perfect moments is gone.

But if we long for beauty which is lasting all we need to do is look in a book.  Every time we open the covers it surrounds us.  On December 1, 2015 publishers Schwartz & Wade Books released a title which made readers marvel page turn after page turn.  It was named one of The New York Times Best Illustrated Children's Book of 2015, an ALSC, Association for Library Service to Children, Notable Children's Books-2016, and a title on the Booklist Top Ten Graphic Novels for Youth: 2016.  A first book by Guojing The Only Child is a title which will leave a mark on your heart, a breathtaking display of visual storytelling masterfully rendered.  In a beginning author's note Guojing writes:

The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China.  

A small child awakens and receives a goodbye hug from her mother as she leaves for work.  On her own the child brushes her teeth, gets dressed and occupies herself during the morning, playing with dolls and her beloved toy deer, and looking at a picture album.  These pictures give her an idea.  After writing a note she pulls on warmer clothing, puts coins in a purse and steps out into the winter weather with an umbrella over her head.

Wandering through the city she makes her way to a bus stop, hoping to visit her grandmother soon.  Without meaning to she falls asleep.  When she wakes up the bus is empty and at the last stop in the woods.  She is alone and lost.  At home her frantic parents have found her note and they try unsuccessfully to find her.

Tearful and fearful she wanders through the forest until a large stag appears.  She follows hoping it is leading her home.  After it saves her from deep water, they travel, she on the back of the deer, farther and farther until the landscape changes with a stairway leading them into the clouds.  It is a realm radiating happiness.  The stag patiently endures her playfully tugs and pokes at its body and face.

Another small being seemingly formed from the clouds themselves, someone the child's size, appears.  They make a delightful duo and an even better trio until something gigantic surfaces, breaking through the clouds as if they are waves on an immense sea.  Soon they are spinning among the stars buoyed up by a burst of air.  As this adventure calms a cloud glides into their vision.

A mother has come to claim her child.  The deer comforts the lost girl until she falls asleep.  Two trips are made; one by the stag and the other by the child and her forest friend.  A glowing, guiding light is followed.  Gratitude and love are exchanged as the two fast friends part from each other.

There are no words on any of these pages but they hum forth from the images rendered in pencil and adjusted in Adobe Photoshop by Guojing.  The front of the dust jacket exudes warmth, comfort and security with a very real promise of an extraordinary relationship.  To the left, on the back, are nine small illustrations from the interior of the book in three rows of three after the child and the deer enter the kingdom of clouds.

A deep midnight blue covers the book case with the title placed in a small white label on the front in the center.  The opening and closing endpapers invite us into a luminous country wrought by imagination.  There is a hint of a single dot on the former and the faint shadow of a faithful friend on the latter, as if it's a memory never to be forgotten.  The text on the title page is placed in frames featuring a city and a single window with a light snow falling.

With a skill surely fueled by the intimacy Guojing has with this story, the pacing reveals every emotional instance with a shift in the size and perspective of the images.  A series of pictures create a passage of time followed by a single illustration depicting a mood which goes straight to your soul; a close-up of the child looking at the closed door with her back to us.  For a stunning impact Guojing gives readers a visual spanning two pages; the city with the child, small in comparison walking alone, the child looking in awe upward as she and the stag stand in a circle of light, or the two double-page illustrations bringing us close to the deer and the child as they say goodbye (This is movingly portrayed with a striking impact.)

The child's face is fully animated mirroring everything she feels; her sadness is profound but her joy is delightful.  The regal almost royal carriage of the deer, the details on the antlers and the fine lines of fur make you long for a similar protector.  When the cloud child peeks out from the white billows the first time like a sky bear you know the girl has found another companion.

I have so many favorite illustrations it is impossible to pick only one.  Every time I've read this book though, I've grinned at one particular set of four pictures.  In the first the stag, cloud child and little girl are standing and sitting with their backs to us as the girl looks behind them.  She notices she is the only one without a puffy tail.  Reaching into the clouds, she forms a ball.  In the final visual all three are in a row with tails.  The deer gazes at the girl as her arms are raised in victory.

Your world fades away as you enter the pages of The Only Child conceived and illustrated with exquisite care by Guojing.  We take an emotional journey with this child, hopeful every step of the way.  Most certainly this is a stunning debut for Guojing, destined to be a classic for all ages.

To discover more about Guojing please follow the link attached to her name to access her Tumblr pages. This link takes you to the Creative Authors page for her. Numerous images including my favorite mentioned here can be found at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Enjoy Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's tweet.

Update:  April 7, 2016  An interview between Guojing and Lee Wade, the vice-president of Schwartz & Wade is on Nerdy Book Club.  

Have you see the book trailer which is contained in the interview?

Monday, March 28, 2016

What A Dog Has To Do

It's time for humans to pay closer attention to what dogs are saying and doing.  Let's face it most, if not all, dogs are far cleverer than we can imagine.  When it comes to training we may think we are succeeding at encouraging certain behavior, if for no other reason than our desire to keep them safe, but are the results due to us or them?

Have you ever thought they might be ensuring we react in a certain way based upon their conduct?  Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook (Learn from the best!) (Candlewick Press, August 25, 2015) written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy is directed at the canine community, specifically those desiring to take up residence on a farm.  There is an acceptable routine with appropriate rules to follow...or not.

I'm Ragweed.  I'm a farm dog, 
and I'm really, really good at it.
Most dogs aren't.

This guide will include all the essentials from dawn until day's end to make sure all goes well for any dog.  The first thing necessary to know is the rooster rouses the farmer even before daybreak.  This is not the dog's task.  The rooster has it covered.  Dogs will hardly be able to keep from assuming this role but they are told to not do it.  If they should happen to interrupt the sleep of the farmer, a biscuit is sure to be offered to get the dog outside as quickly as possible.

Pigs have a job requiring a lot of mud and increasing their size.  Dogs need to stay clear of them and especially the mud regardless of the lure of such deliciousness.  Baths are to be avoided BUT after the dreaded cleansing guess what a dog gets?  A biscuit?  That's right!  Are you starting to see a pattern here?

If the chickens are disturbed during egg laying, a dog should try an elaborate tale about a countryside varmint.  Chasing sheep is strictly forbidden.  Of course a dog might want to take advantage of the old saying,

When the cat's away the mice will play.

As a dog roams around the farm, they will encounter cows calmly munching on grass.  The sweet taste of this green goodness will call to a dog.  Resist this at all costs unless a biscuit has recently been consumed.  After a summation of the previously mentioned farm life fundamentals the REAL job of a farm dog is revealed.

With liberal doses of hilarity a dog's point of view is portrayed with absolute clarity in this story written by Anne Vittur Kennedy.  As each animal on the farm is discussed along with their duties, a dog is encouraged not to partake in the same actions.  On the other hand, Ragweed, scamp about the farm, has learned (and earned) the results if proper decorum is not followed.  The use of repetition is masterfully used in several different passages inviting participation by readers and listeners.  One of them is

That's their job.  That's not your job.

This story gets better and better as the results of the rule-bending get a little bit more involved and a whole lot crazier.  Here is a sample set of sentences.

Mud is lovely.
It smells like worms and toes and earwax,
so you will really, really want to lie in the mud.
But don't lie in the mud.

When you first look at the front of the dust jacket, you know without a doubt that Ragweed is a dog with his own set of tricks.  Those chickens are raising a ruckus because that's what Ragweed does.  The cheery color palette is continued throughout the book with images rendered in acrylics.  To the left, on the back, readers are given a peek at the first picture of Ragweed doing what he should not be doing.  Ragweed is lying on the farmer's rather robust stomach about to end his sweet dreams.  The border of golden yellow hay on the front becomes the background on the back with a border of rustic barn red.  Both images are outlined in turquoise.

The book case background is the same as the border on the back of the dust jacket with the spine in the straw golden yellow.  In the center on the front is the title framing a happy-go-lucky Ragweed.  The back contains no image.  This has the look of a guidebook.  The opening and closing endpapers are awash in pale green.

Prior to the title page readers have an opportunity to place their name beneath a banner reading

This handbook belongs to:

A grinning Ragweed is featured at the top with two nesting chickens holding the sign in their beaks.  A portrait of a biscuit is placed under the dedication.  On the title page Ragweed is reading his own book by lantern light in the barn, smiling in complete satisfaction.

Anne Vittur Kennedy alters the size of her illustrations to match and enhance the cadence of her narrative beginning with two double-page pictures, edge to edge, followed by two single page visuals with different framing. She does include two or three images on a page with loose framing to provide a pause and prove a point before a blast of energy.  As readers move through the story the background colors reflect the place and time of day with a pastoral richness.

The facial looks on Ragweed, the farmer and the other animals will have readers holding their sides in laughter.  The wide-eyes and mouths tell a tale of their own.  Please pay close attention to the angle of Ragweed's ears too.

One of my favorite of several pictures is when Ragweed is in the hen house.  It spreads across two pages.  Three chickens are sitting on a raised bed filled with straw.  On the far left one is sleeping.  In the middle the second hen has one eye warily open a slit looking to the right at Ragweed.  The third gal is aghast at the audacity of this dog.  Her wings are ruffled and her eyes are frightened.  Ragweed is up on his back legs with his front paws resting on the edge of the bed.  He is most definitely wearing a mischievous smile.  You will want to take notice of his teeth.

No farm, dog or humorous themed read aloud should be without Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook (Learn from the best!) written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy.  The fun of rules meant to be broken is in the results.  From beginning to end a room with readers and listeners will be filled with mirth.  This is a title sure to be frequently requested to be read over and over.

I can only assume Anne Vittur Kennedy relishes her privacy as I could not find a website or blog for her.  She lives near Columbus, Ohio with a dog named Banjo.  At the publisher's website you can view one of the first double page illustrations. This title is a Bank Street Irma Black Award finalist.  It is also a Highly Commended title on the Charlotte Zolotow Award list.

Friday, March 25, 2016

To Wednesday

At puppy Xena's first visit to the vet we were told as a sporting dog she needed long walks every single day.  So we did. In sickness and health (mine) not a day was missed.  There was also a great deal of running, swimming and hole digging (hers).  That's a lot of miles covered over fifteen years although during the last twelve months the walks became strolls and were shorter with lots of sniffing and pausing on her part.

All that walking for humans does not equal the same degree of senses used as it does for dogs.  Although there is quite a bit of seeing, smelling, and hearing what seems to happen the most is time for thinking unless you are taking a trip through your neighborhood.  That changes the entire experience.  Ideas Are All Around (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, March 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead is about an author in search of an idea.

outside my house
the sunflower opened up.

"Hello, Sunflower!"

After reflecting on the fact this is the only sunflower to be standing tall and blooming from an entire packet of seeds past their prime, we know this author needs a single thought to grow a story.  The dog Wednesday does not want to spend the day inside while her human explores their mind for the special something to start their writing.  Off they go on a walk.

Like a gardener holding an envelope labeled ideas, images and encounters with wildlife, strangers and welcoming residents are collected as this writer and Wednesday roam along familiar paths.  A painted turtle soaking in the sun on a log in the river is greeted by name before vanishing beneath the water.  On the other side of the river a treasured friend shouts a hello.  A memory surfaces about a long ago incident involving paint, an accident and a blue horse.

A line of ducks, graffiti words and a long-legged bird taking flight are duly noted.  As a train passes speculation quickly follows about where it might be going or where the tracks lead in the other direction.  A line of people hungry for breakfast, cloud watching and a probe into the past about the purchase of a typewriter occupy the neighborhood travelers.

Familiar birdsong interrupts the author's musings before Wednesday races after a squirrel.  Finally settling down for a chat with Barbara, the early morning greeter, things seen and remembered are woven into the comfortable conversation.  Soon


is heard.

As each separate observation is revealed Philip C. Stead adds several sentences, statements or thoughts creating a gentle storytelling rhythm.  It's a rare gift for readers to see how his mind measures and assesses each one.  Dialogue is threaded through the narrative.  Most walkers can attest, especially those walking with their canine companion, speaking aloud or silently in your head is frequent, freeing and fun.  We feel our kinship with this man and his dog growing as the walk and story progresses.  Here is a sample passage.

"H-e-y-y-y-y, Barbara!" I call out.
"Maybe we'll stop by later!"
"Okay!" she says. ""I'll make coffee!"
Then comes a line of ducks
floating downstream.
"Hello," I say.
"I don't have any ideas today."
If the ducks have any advice
they keep it to themselves.

A gorgeous blend of artistic techniques, monoprinting, cardboard printing, painting on paper and applying pressure to the back, drawing in crayon on brown paper and cutting out the forms and pictures taken with a Polaroid camera, are used to render the illustrations in this book.  Across the dust jacket large brush strokes and swirls of blue paint form a horse with the other guide, the real dog Wednesday, running alongside in perfect unison.  On the book case an array of Polaroid pictures, seventeen, in rows of three on a background of white give us a first peek at them before their appearance on the interior pages.  The title text occupies one of the spaces.

Sunflower yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  Snapshots of Wednesday are shown before the story starts, one on the dedication.

Wednesday dedicates this book 
to the neighborhood.

A heavy matte-finished paper is an ideal canvas for the visuals placed together by Stead.  The cadence of page turns is altered by image size and the use of the Polaroid pictures.  To begin a single page illustration is on the right, a Polaroid on the left.  This slightly shifts with the addition of text on the right.  Then it's art above and below the text extending over two pages before a big beautiful blue horse appears on a double-page spread.  The layout and design are exquisite working in harmony with the words.

I can't help it.  One of my favorite illustrations is at the beginning of the book.  It's of Wednesday sitting on grass with a torn right edge overlapping green and white polka-dot paper.  She's looking right at the reader in all her shaggy-haired, loving wonderfulness.  A bright yellow circular sun is painted on white behind her head; most assuredly a halo for a guardian angel.

An author who needs an idea and a dog who needs a walk trek through their neighborhood, each happy with the results in Ideas Are All Around written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead.  It's a gathering of tiny kernels ready to sprout into stories after planted in a creative mind.  This book is a garden in full splendor.

To learn more about Philip C. Stead and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  To access The Stead Collection pages please follow this link. A sweepstakes is being held in relation to this title.  Information can be found here.  To view eight interior images, including my favorite one, please go to the publisher's website. A teacher's guide for many of the Stead books and a wonderful activity kit for this title are available there also. Reading about the evolution of this book through a guest post by Stead at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast is a marvelous.  On March 11, 2016 Philip C. Stead was a guest on the podcast Let's Get Busy, Episode 243

These Things Are True

When I looked out my front window this morning, I knew I would see the row of snow-capped mountain peaks reaching toward the sky like eager fingers.  I knew flashes of white, black and iridescent blue would signal the gathering of the resident magpies roosting in their favorite pine tree.  I knew chickadees would be flitting from bush to bush and tree to tree.  When I looked through my back window I knew I would see piles of needless and cones on my deck and yard dropped from the Ponderosa pines.  I knew the tiny lights on Xena's tree would be twinkling in the early morning light.

What I did not know was a new bird with a song so sweet it sounded like a symphony would pass through my yard.  I did not know I would gasp in surprise at the row of lilac bushes now wearing green in their boughs as if some garden fairy had waved a wand last night.  That's the gift each day brings to us; the known and the unknown.

How fortunate it is for those who learn at an earlier rather than a later age of the true beauty to be found in being open to all the little and big things offered to us within the moments of our lives.  The Knowing Book (Boyd Mills Press, an imprint of Highlights, February 23, 2016) written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich with illustrations by Matthew Cordell depicts the potential for discovery right outside our own doorways.  It's a path worth following.

Before you forget...
...look up.

Regardless of the weather the sky is there...always.  When you begin your day, there is more than one direction you can take.  The whisper of a song or of a tear will never steer you wrong.

Let every single one of your senses, seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling, should operate at their full potential.  What do they tell you?  Is your intuition sending a message?  Listen.  Learn.  Stop and think some more.

Be prepared but if you should stray from the familiar, be ready to embrace the unexplored.  You are smarter than you believe yourself to be.  You will do the right thing at the right time.  Give yourself the pause needed to dream of all you can be, should be and want to be.

Let the child in your heart go free by seeking the simple and embracing the bliss it can bring.  As the day draws to a close and the route you chose guides you home, surround yourself with the night noises.  Remember.  Remember to end as you started.

Each time I've read this book the passages divided by page turns have encouraged me to stop.  Rebecca Kai Dotlich has spun a narrative, a guide, which wraps around you like a melody as you read.  Her poetic words find the heartbeat of our individual universes within the greater whole inviting us to embrace each rhythm.  Here is a sample passage.

Don't be too busy to slosh in a puddle
or fly a kite,
or too important to pick up the lost coin
or the common shell.
These small things are coveted by giants.

I want to stand on the grassy hill, the roof of the rabbit's home, at night.  I want to feel the breeze that is blowing the scarf.  I want to sense the vastness of the sky as I lift my head joining this child in star gazing.  Matthew Cordell extends the image over the spine of the matching dust jacket and book case to the left given us a vision of a huge patchwork landscape of hills, trees and paths. (Be sure to run your hands over the title text on the dust jacket.)  The opening endpapers depict the early morning light of a sky patched with clouds.  The star-studded night returns on the closing endpapers.  Beneath the text on the title page the rabbit stands outside looking at that morning sky from a hilltop, smiling, waiting and watching.

The exuberance running through the author's words is masterfully presented in each illustration.  Cordell's signature loose lines and tiny details explicitly mirror every mood of the rabbit and the bird companion throughout the day.  To begin a fading crescent moon hangs in the sky.  When the rabbit leaves home the interior room includes pictures on the wall of family members and the little bird, and delicate dishes and bottles on a table, vessels for rabbit things like carrots.

When the rabbit and bird rest on a hill to search for magic, sit in a tree to imagine, seek a pathway or pretend when looking at cloud formations, Cordell's pictures bring us into each wonderful scene.  Many of his illustrations span two pages or if they are separate smaller pictures his design has elements from one become part of another.  For most of the visuals the perspective is similar but when rabbit blows the horn we are close to him, the words direct us to this intimacy.

One of my favorite of several illustrations is the first one featured on a single page.  The morning appears in faint shades of green and pink glowing within the clouds, the moon growing pale in the dawn.  On a small hilltop stands the rabbit.  His/her back is to us, scarf billowing out mostly on the right.  The rabbit's arms are away from his/her body's sides, lifting upward to greet the day.  You can almost hear a voice saying "Here I am world.  What are we going to do today?"

The Knowing Book written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich with illustrations by Matthew Cordell is a book for all ages.  It literally radiates with warmth reaching out to readers, offering them comfort so they can experience everything found in each day.  It is an ode in words and pictures to life.

To learn more about Rebecca Kai Dotlich and Matthew Cordell please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This link will take you to Matthew Cordell's blog. As part of several blog posts during the release of the title please check out the interviews at Geo Librarian, and  The Little Crooked Cottage.  Educator Paul Hankins highlights this title in a blog post at These 4 Corners about the process of remixing an F & G.  Educator Michele Knott showcases this book on her blog Mrs. Knott's Book Nook offering mentor text suggestions.  Matthew Cordell was a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast on December 15, 2015.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Amazing Feats With Feet

There is something indescribably wonderful about running.  It's like flying with your feet.  When your legs and arms are rhythmically moving to a beat with your breathing you have to marvel at the beauty of the human body.

We did not have official sport teams for girls when I was in high school but I loved watching the track meets.  When I was in my early thirties I started racing in earnest in the 5K runs.  I knew if I kept at it I would place in the top three eventually.  When I was fifty-two years old I accomplished this in one of my favorite races, The Dinosaur Dash at Michigan State University.

For those runners attempting and finishing marathons, you have to admire the miracle of running every one of those twenty-six plus miles.  The Wildest Race Ever: The Story Of The 1904 Olympic Marathon (A Paula Wiseman Book, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 1, 2016) written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy describes the trials of the runners in this race and for some of the spectators.  It was a crazy day!

 The first Olympic marathon held in America happened on August 31, 1904, in Saint Louis, Missouri.  It was part of the World's Fair exhibition.  At the World's Fair many people experienced their first hot dog, first Dr. Pepper, first ice cream cone, and first Olympics.

Can you imagine what an amazing event this must have been for celebrating firsts?  As a result of torrential rainstorms the route for the marathon had to change.  It was not a change for the best.  Thirty-two runners decided to stick with their plan to race.

We are introduced to ten of those runners; six Americans, one Cuban, one Frenchman, and two South Africans.  As the race proceeded their fates unfolded in unbelievable forms when you think of racing marathons in 2016.  To complicate the entire situation the temperature at three in the afternoon on the day of the race was ninety degrees.

To begin the runners ran around the inside of the stadium five times before continuing down a road outside.  The dust generated by cars and bicycle riders made it difficult for the runners to breathe and see.  After the first mile one runner was violently ill.  There were only two water stations and the water was contaminated.  YIKES!

What was that runner doing hopping into a car?  Carvajal the racer from Cuba chatted with spectators and pilfered fruit more than once.  Oh no!  Something caused Len Tau from South Africa to go off the designated course.  Did he make it back?

Instead of water the English born American racer was given a concoction by his trainers which could have been deadly.  A medical doctor took a wrong turn resulting in an unexpected scenic tour.  At the finish line there were tears, a collapse, a cheater and someone a little too bit refreshed.  It was and is a race to remember.

The passion Meghan McCarthy has for marathons is evident in her dedication and in the care she has given to her research.  Specific facts and actual quotes are part of her narrative causing readers to feel as if they are reading the latest news reports about the events of the day.  As we get farther into the race the things happening border on the incredible.  How did these men manage to live through the day?  As the end gets closer and specific runners are battling for position the pace of the writing matches the excitement.  Sentences are shorter.  Pauses are inserted, questions are asked and the use of the word, meanwhile, is more prevalent.  Here is a sample passage.

Albert Corey and William Garcia were neck and neck.
Although Hicks had been behind, he was catching up!
"The streets were inches deep in dust," Hicks's trainer remarked, "and every time an auto passed it raised enough dust to obscure the vision of the runners and choke them."

As soon as you look at the dust jacket and the matching book case, you know you are holding a Meghan McCarthy gem in your hands.  The eyes on her characters are a signature piece of her artwork.  The facial expressions on her humans and her animals declare their exact moods.

To the left, on the back, is a collage of picture postcards from the World's Fair exhibition and a corresponding map.  McCarthy continues this theme on her opening and closing endpapers using a background in the same shade of blue as found on the jacket and case.  These postcards contain script handwriting with messages to the addressee.

Rendered in acrylics most of her images span two pages with the exception of a few smaller insets on two pages together.  For the most part her perspective is more all-encompassing than close-up giving us the sense of the expanse of this race.  With that being said she does bring us into the scenes of the dust overwhelming the racers, the close encounter for racer Len Tau and the win.

Her color palette is indicative of the time of day, temperature and place.  The clothing, cars and bicycles mirror the historical period.  Regardless of the astonishing events of the day, McCarthy depicts people in such a way as to cheerfully inform her readers.

One of my favorite illustrations is of a group of four runners coming toward the reader.  The road is in the center of two pages with the countryside to the left and the right.  There are fields and trees on either side with a couple of older buildings on the right.  Bystanders are along the road on the left.  Two bicyclists, one a policeman and the other a woman, are following the racers along with a dog.  It is clear that runner Lorden is not going to finish the race.

The Wildest Race Ever: The Story Of The 1904 Olympic Marathon written and illustrated by Meghan McCarthy documents in informative, spirited text and pictures the truly astonishing moments of this day.  The perseverance of the finishers is to be commended along with the sheer gumption of many of the spectators.  Meghan McCarthy has a lengthy author's note about the marathon runners, the 1904 World's Fair, the Pike and a select bibliography at the end.  This is the kind of nonfiction readers will read over and over.  History, reality, can really be stranger than fiction.

To learn more about Meghan McCarthy and her other books, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  McCarthy has eight individual pages dedicated to this title.  At the publisher's website you can view seven interior illustrations including one of my favorites.

Please take a few moments to enjoy the titles selected by the other bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge as linked at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Woof-tastic Exploits

Sharing an adventure with a best buddy is much better than going alone if for no other reason than you will have someone to corroborate your unbelievable stories.  A pal can offer additional protection in the face of unexpected challenges and invaluable assistance in making split-second decisions.  Their support when your get-up-and-go has gone and when witnessing true beauty is priceless.

When either of you can make the other laugh or the two of you are laughing together or even better if you can make those around you laugh, this is simply the best.  With the release of two books in a brand new series classic comedy teams of William Abbott and Lou Costello, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, George Burns and Grace Allen, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance (Ethel) and Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are going to have to relinquish a portion of the limelight to the dog duo found in Haggis And Tank Unleashed #1: All Paws on Deck (Scholastic, January 5, 2016) and Haggis And Tank Unleashed #2: Digging for Dinos (Scholastic, February 23, 2016).  Author Jessica Young and illustrator James Burks deliver to readers non-stop action packed with hilarity.

Haggis was bored.
It was too early for lunch.
It was too late for barking at the mail carrier.
And the cat next door had gone inside.

Tank, on the other paw, was not bored.  She was riding down a hill in her wagon reading of pirates, treasure and sailing on the Seven Seas.  Before Haggis could formulate any sort of negative campaign to her suggestions, Tank turned her wagon into a ship, the Golden Biscuit, to transport them toward rare riches.

Still reluctant Haggis finally agreed to set sail as Captain Scurvy with first mate Bootleg Bonny (Tank).  Pirate lingo and orders were tested and provisions were packed.  Haggis settled into the role of leader but Tank could not, despite genuine attempts, seem to get the hang of first mate duties especially tying knots.  They were not one of her talents.

A bottle found at sea revealed a drawing of a treasure map on a desert island or was it a dessert island?  A trail was traced and possible x-marks-the-spot holes changed the landscape.  Our twosome was tried and tired.  Setting sail for home proved to be difficult without a cooperating breeze but a squeaky toy, a monster from the watery depths and a canon blast did what Mother Nature could not.  The best and biggest bonus awaited them.

Haggis woke up early and got ready for the day.
He clipped his toenails.
He snipped his mustache.
He polished his dog tag until it sparkled. 

As usual Tank disregarded grooming in favor of reading.  Completely taken with tales of dinosaurs, Tank convinced Haggis to go on an expedition looking for these prehistoric giants.  Extinction was not in Tank's vocabulary when adventure called.

Loaded with provisions and wearing appropriate attire, the canine companions soon walked along a tropical forest path.  Though, truth be told, their tracking skills were lacking.  I'm surprised they did not get dizzy.

Suddenly a set of big tracks and loud noises frightened the pals and accidentally led them to not one, not two but three dinosaur eggs.  A dilemma developed for keeping them warm until big mama appeared.  Eye-opening dinosaur discoveries were made until the situation became too hot for our heroes.  Suds and sleep remained.

Targeted for early readers and part of the Scholastic Branches books, these titles will appeal to all readers for the wit woven into the narrative written by Jessica Young.  Word play abounds in the six chapters in each book; homophones playing a huge part in the humor supplied in the conversations between Haggis and Tank.  A comedic mix of text and dialogue move the pace quickly from one moment to the next.  Here are a several sample passages. Tank's voice is in red.  Haggis's voice is in blue.  The text is in bold and black.

Hey! Why did you do that?
Because we're stuck in the middle of the ocean with no food, no water, and no hope of finding land!  We're drifting in endless circles of doom, and I can't take that squeaking anymore!  I just need a little peace!
A little piece of what?

Suddenly, Tank spotted a speck in the distance.
The speck was moving.
Look, Captain Scurvy!
There's something swimming in the water!
That's a tall tale.  Quit making up stories.
It is a tall tail!

Tank looked at the egg.  She had an idea.
I'll egg-sit you until your mama gets back.  Maybe I'll even hatch you!
Hatch who?
Bless you, Haggis!
No, hatch who?
Two sneezes!  I hope you're not getting a cold?
I'm not sneezing!  I'm asking you who---who are you going to hatch?
A baby dinosaur!

From the front of the two book cases it's easy to see that the Great Dane, Tank, and the Scottish terrier, Haggis, are set to imagine the best possible tales.  James Burks entices readers by highlighting an exciting episode from each title tying in other elements from more than one chapter.  Each book begins with a double page spread and ends with a wordless single page image.

The pacing is developed through layout and design similar to graphic novels employing a variety of single page pictures and pages divided by multiple illustrations.  Each title contains at least five two-page visuals.  A smaller inset might be placed in some of these.

A full color palette will captivate readers as well as the extra details.  Long eyelashes on Tank, the tartan plaid on Haggis' dog bed, the small black bones encasing the page numbers, the glowing clouds when the duo transition from reality to a fantastic world, Lockout Rock in the shape of a telescope, the duo wearing life jackets when they are in the rowboat, and the shape of their dog tags add to the overall fun experienced when reading about these furry friends.  Using speech bubbles with different colored fonts helps readers to discern between the two characters.

One of my favorite illustrations from the first title is when Tank is chewing on her squeaky toy over and over and over again.  She is happily oblivious to the growing frustration of Haggis until he shouts in annoyance with his captain's hat lifting off his head.  It's a close-up of the two dogs enhancing their current moods.

In the second book one of my favorite images is before their adventure starts.  Tank is digging like crazy in the back yard looking for another bone.  All she finds is a dirty tennis ball and Haggis, who if you remember has recently groomed himself, has disappeared.  Of course, Haggis is buried under a pile of dirt.  Only his ears and tail are visible.

Haggis And Tank Unleashed: All Paws on Deck and Haggis and Tank Unleashed: Digging for Dinos written by Jessica Young with illustrations by James Burks are rip-tickling, first rate adventures.  Readers will find themselves bursting out loud with laughter and rolling their eyes at the silly conversations between these two friends.  You should plan on multiple copies for your professional shelves and expect I-want-to-read-it-first discussions (arguments) in your home.  Four paws up high for these books!

Please visit Jessica Young's and James Burks's websites to discover more about them and their other books by following the links attached to their names.  Scholastic has designed a special website for this series.  It includes excerpts from each title, an After-Reading Guide, a Hunt for homophones with Haggis and Tank!, and a Draw your own pirate ship flag! sheet.

Monday, March 21, 2016

You Will Know

The signs are so subtle when you do see them it's as if it happens overnight.  Birds that for months have been looking for food are now also carrying grasses and twigs to places unknown.  On close inspection peeking through the dirt are the red tips of leaves from tulip bulbs planted in the fall.  Bare tree branches now bear buds ready to burst forth in blossoms.  It's coming to us like a long-awaited whisper.

There will still be a teeter-totter game between winter and spring as days will fluctuate between chilly and balmy but change is in the air.  When Spring Comes (Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, February 9, 2016), the newest collaboration between the husband and wife team of Kevin Henkes and Laura Dronzek, asks us to be patient.  The reward for our patience will be the splendor brought by an abundance of new life.

Before Spring comes,
the trees look like
black sticks against the sky.

In our waiting (and watching) we will see those sticks fill with tiny flowers and tiny leaves announcing the arrival of spring.  The last remains of our play in the snow will fade into the ground.  A colorless landscape yields tiny hues of green, yellow, white, pink and purple.

Treasures tucked in nests and underground seek a release.  Seemingly endless days of rain showers quench a thirst.  Sown seeds line gardens in rows of green.  Kittens enjoying this first seasonal change find places to roam and romp.

Sometimes spring disappears under a fresh layer of snow but it returns assisted by the sun's new warmth, gaining strength.  When winter has been banished there will be no doubt.  Be still and look, listen, smell, and touch spring.  It's everywhere.  Our anticipation is satisfied.  Or is it?

Exquisite pacing is evident in the selected words and sentence structure used by Kevin Henkes.  Each thought builds upon the previous one until a crescendo is reached.  Henkes then writes in an alliterative celebration of the season.  It's also interesting that spring is given a capital letter S to signify its importance.  Here is a sample passage.

Do you like mud?
Do you like puddles?
I hope you like umbrellas.

Given the color selections, looking at the matching dust jacket and book case sends joy surging through your soul.  Who can resist white kittens among the spring grass and flowers beneath blossoming trees, a bird and a bee?  To the left, on the back, Laura Dronzek has placed a single circular image on the blue background.  Snuggled in the tree branches is a bird's nest holding three blue eggs.  It is a wonderful foreshadowing of events portrayed throughout the book.  

The opening endpapers are awash is marbled shades of blue as a background with brilliant displays of kites, umbrellas, butterflies, birds, boots, flowers, buds, bees, bubbles, raindrops and a single white kitten.  The closing endpapers are different reflecting the end of the book.  Rendered in acrylic paints each image is an atmospheric enhancement of the text.

In the beginning Dronzek supplies single page pictures and a series of illustrations to extend the text.  She then switches to large circle portraits with a tiny mouse as a character.  Time lapse elements surrounded by large amounts of white space emphasize the beauty waiting brings. As the text takes us closer to full-blown spring, vibrant double-page spreads follow.

One of my favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It's a panoramic view but shifts the perspective to bring us close to certain items in the image.  As we move from the top of the page to the bottom we move more into the picture.  Clouds nearly cover a blue sky as two bikers move down a path.  A girl wearing pink wings over her yellow coat is flying a pink kite.  Butterflies are being chased by a spotted puppy.  In the foreground a garden shows sprouted seeds in rows and robins are looking at worms.  Bees buzz.  The three white kittens, looking directly at the reader, are squirming in and over a dusty red wheelbarrow.

With words and pictures author Kevin Henkes and illustrator Laura Dronzek ask us to enter their book, When Spring Comes.  We are invited to enjoy every single page.  In fact you can't help but want to jump into some of the illustrations to experience the happiness you see glowing there. This is a masterful expression of a season full of newness and renewal.

To learn more about Kevin Henkes please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can listen to the pronunciation of Kevin Henkes' and Laura Dronzek's names at TeachingBooks.net here and here.  Laura Dronzek is interviewed about this title at The Horn Book.

Friday, March 18, 2016

And The Plot Thickens

Every snapshot of life is composed of layers.  If we take any given scene revealed by a glance out the window of our home, a look across our yard at an unusual bird squawk, or a peek at people walking down the street when we are stopped at a light, we can expect there to be more beneath the surface.  The bird, a crow, upon further inspection is being chased by a bunch of smaller birds, probably for doing something pesky.  The tree, in which it takes sanctuary, now more than fifty feet tall, was planted decades ago by a little boy in memory of a beloved pet.  This pet was saved from...  Thankfully there will always be stories within stories.

When you have the opportunity to read a book with threads of history and mystery liberally woven into the fabric of a classic adventure, you can expect to have a page-turner on your hands.  Audacity Jones To The Rescue (Scholastic Press, January 26, 2016) written by Newbery Honor award winner Kirby Larson introduces readers to an eleven year old who more than lives up to her name.  Audacity Jones' predictable life at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls in Swayzee, Indiana is about to change on this Christmas Eve.

If you are a reader whose knees wobble at the mere mention of adventure, danger and derring-do, close these covers immediately and select a tome more to your liking.

Perhaps something about pudding.

Audacity Jones has once again devoured every sprig of burned broccoli, even though clean plates simply were not tolerated at Miss Maisie's School for Wayward Girls.
Miss Maisie's barley-water breath traveled the length of the scarred mahogany table, arriving well before her reprimand.

To her good friends, the triplets, Lilac, Lavender and Violet, and Bimmy, Audacity's fate on this holiday eve is upsetting at the very least.  To be sent to the Punishment Room is the worst sort of discipline any of the seventeen girls residing in this home can imagine.  In fact no one has ever been there and most certainly not with the regularity which seems to plague Audacity.

If they only knew what is within those four walls.  It's a magnificent library with books gathered by the late Mr. Witherton.  Audacity, like a particular rabbit begging not to be thrown into a briar patch, rather likes learning as much as she can.  She is frequently visited by a wayward cat, Miniver, with an uncanny amount of intelligence.  Her time this evening though is cut short by an unexpected visitor.

Commodore Crutchfield, a routine benefactor of the school, has arrived.  He is in need of a girl, specifically an orphan.  As Audacity's arch nemesis Divinity is so quick to point out, she, Audacity, is the only true orphan at the school.  Fueled by her constant reading and longing for adventure, Audacity agrees to go on this secret mission with the Commodore.  Besides the buzzing in her left ear, a predictor of usually bad news, is up at full volume.

It seems Audacity, Commodore Crutchfield, the driver of his touring car, Cypher, and Miniver, who smuggled herself aboard in the wicker trunk, are now traveling toward the nation's capital, Washington, D. C.   Once settled in their hotel there, other characters of decidedly dubious nature, the bellman, Stanley, and Mrs. Elva Finch, make an appearance as key players in a dastardly plan involving President Taft and his family.  There are new friends whose assistance is invaluable, Juice Johnson, a local newsboy whose grandfather Daddy Dub runs the stables at the White House and the French maid, Beatrice who has been hired to care for Audacity.  And who are the mysterious petite Madame Volta and the massive Igor?

Poison, locked, money and transatlantic are only some of the words found in a web woven of intrigue with the days and hours spinning toward the New Year's Day reception at the White House.  Efforts large and small on the side of good and evil will collide.  Resourcefulness will rule the day.

When Kirby Larson creates historical fiction readers can be sure of several things in her writing; painstaking research, a true sense of place and time in the detailed descriptions and characters indicative of the time period.  The conversations between the characters, the words they use and the manner in which they speak, flesh out their personalities in our minds.  Even though those living in the story might not immediately know who can or cannot be trusted we readers start to form our own opinions until we are surprised by Larson's cleverness.

We find ourselves championing for Audacity, cheering for her friends at the school, fist pumping for her new companions in Washington D. C. and gasping at the vileness of the villains.  There are layers to the events and also to the portrayals of the people.  Here are some sample passages.

More prudent minds might label the Commodore's request nothing more than a wild-goose chase.  But what good are wild geese, if not pursued upon occasion?  Audie reflected on a Chinese proverb she'd skimmed in The People's Proverbs: "Pearls don't lie on the seashore.  If you desire one, you must dive for it."  In her short life, she had noted that, oftimes, a person is put in difficult positions for good reasons.  Reasons that are beyond comprehension.  And more than having an adventure, Audie dreamed of doing some good in the world.  It appeared that in order to gather that particular pearl, she would have to dive.  "Bees and bonnets," she said.  "I'll go." ...

...The triplets' sniffles exploded into wails.  Bimmy threw her arms around Audie's waist.  "Don't go, Audie.  Don't!"
Audie patted her comrade's back.  "What have I always told you?"
Bimmy released her grip, drawing in a shaky breath.  "That everything will turn out splendid in the end," she said.  "And if it's not splendid, it's not the end."

Juice leaned the poker against the fireplace.  "I was just thinking." he began.
The old man lit his pipe, shaking the wooden match to extinguish the flame. " 'Bout the little gal you brought 'round today?"
Juice had long ago stopped being surprised by his grandfather's intuition.  He nodded.
"You didn't find her any too soon." Daddy Dub took three puffs on his pipe.
Juice picked up a stick of cordwood. "What do you mean?"
"She's going to need our help."  He tapped his pipe on the ashtray.
"Pretty darned quick, too, 'cording to my rheumatiz.  Best to keep an eye on her."
Juice managed to load the wood into the stove without dropping it.  How did Daddy Dub know such things?  That was a mystery.
But it was no mystery that he was rarely wrong.

Audacity Jones To The Rescue written by Kirby Larson is first-rate historical fiction packed with memorable characters real and imagined whose lives run together accidentally and on purpose.  Every nuance within the plot unfolds precisely as planned by Larson. Fortunately for readers this is the first volume in a series with a hint as to the next escapade on the last page.  In an author's note and in her acknowledgments Kirby Larson further endears readers to this book and its beginnings.

To learn more about Kirby Larson and her other wonderful novels and picture books, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Kirby Larson is interviewed about this title at author Janet Fox's blog.  Believe me; you are going to want to read this.  Author Barbara O'Connor talks about Audacity Jones To The Rescue on her blog, Greetings from Nowhere.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

When It Won't Go Away

The first big rain storm after winter when the ground has yet to thaw is a laughter factory.  If it happens to rain all morning but decides to stop before lunch with sunshine breaking through the gathered clouds, it's cause for rejoicing by the adults and students in an elementary school.  Absolutely no one likes indoor recess.

When your school library has a wall of windows facing the playground you have a front row seat to the production of comedy beginning almost immediately.  With standing water everywhere, it's an open invitation irresistible to any child.  If one of the neighborhood dogs should join the hoopla, it is so much the better.  Puddle (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2016) written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum is a rainy day romp; characters rejoicing in the potency of imagination and the sheer fun to be found when rain falls.

I hate rainy days.

A little guy is in the midst of a major pout because he can't go outside to play.  You really can't ride your bike or kick a soccer goal inside your home.  When his mom suggests he draw, he answers with a resounding


Their conversation wakes the snoozing cat and resting dog.  Mom decides to draw without her son but his curiosity causes him to slowly approach the table where she is working.  Three sets of eyes (two of the furry, four-footed variety) watch as she creates a blue umbrella.

Her son requests she draw him holding his umbrella.  So he won't be lonely, Mom adds herself and their dog, Billy.  It seems one essential element is missing. Rain!  Grasping the blue crayon, the boy remedies this problem.

The boy, his mom and Billy find themselves trudging through a downpour.  A tantalizing temptation looms ahead.  Mom yells.  Her son surrenders with abandon.  Shrieks and shakes follow.  Wait a minute.  Is this real?

Told entirely in conversation between the boy and his mother Hyewon Yum builds an excellent venue for a participatory reading experience.  Yum's word choices could not be better for portraying a crabby child lured out of a bad mood and a mother's patience in light of the unfolding situation.  Not only do we come to understand both of the characters' personalities but we realize the respect and love they have for each other.  It's also an enriching exercise in the art of storytelling.  Here is a sample passage.

Okay, I'll draw me next to you.

And draw Billy, too.

That's a tricky one.
And I don't like wet dog smell.

Mom, please. 

How can you not smile when looking at the front of the matching dust jacket and book case?  That boy and his dog are in a complete state of bliss jumping in the puddle.  Shades of primary and secondary colors are used here and throughout the interior of the book.  Although not stated the medium, based upon the texture and lines, appears to be mixed.

The opening and closing endpapers begin with a canvas of white like drawing paper.  The former shows a series of puddles and falling rain in the signature blue.  At the back two characters in a sequence of four separate moments and a bright yellow and red have been added.  Beneath the text, looking as if block printed, on the title page, the boy with his umbrella is running in the rain.

For most of the images with the exception of those focusing on the drawing being done on the table, the background is white allowing for our attention to focus on the characters and their activities.  There is a subtle layer of humor in these illustrations evident in the facial expressions and body postures.  We also are aware when the images have moved from reality to drawings and then back to reality based upon color intensity and the firmness of the outlines.

One illustration in particular is a favorite of mine.  It spans two pages (as most of them do).  It's a close-up of the table with a drawing pad in the left foreground.  The blue umbrella has been drawn.  The family cat, taking up most of the left side of the page, is walking on the picture.  Peering over the edge of the table on the right is Billy and the little boy.  A box of crayons and two crayons, red and blue, are on the table.  The eyes on Billy and the little boy are curious and captivated.

You and your readers are going to love Puddle written and illustrated by Hyewon Yum for its delightfully inventive and realistic adventure on one rainy day.  I'll be willing to predict readers will be reaching for crayons, colored pencils and drawing paper after reading this title.  They will want to create their own stories.

If you would like to learn more about Hyewon Yum and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  At the publisher's website you can view interior images including a portion of my favorite one.  Hyewon Yum was a guest at Scholastic's Ambassador for School Libraries John Schumacher's blog Watch. Connect. Read.  She was also featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  The pronunciation of her name is highlighted at TeachingBooks.net.  Enjoy the book trailer.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Positioned At The Top

Over the course of fifteen years winter has grown to become my favorite season.  It's a time when Mother Nature takes a pause, resting before renewal.  Whether walking along a worn path on crystal clear, blue sky days with air so crisp you could cut it or through drifts of new snow and biting winds, my dog Xena and I would make our way regardless of what the day offered.

On March 6, 2016 the ceremonial start of The Last Great Race, the Iditarod, began in Anchorage, Alaska.  Following these women and men and their dog teams traveling a course across the forty-ninth state is breathtaking.  The challenge of nearly one thousand miles through unforgiving land and weather is beyond comprehension but many of them have done it for decades.  At this time there are still forty-three women, men and their dogs on the trail.  Thirty have completed the journey in less than ten days.

In 1988 a trip never accomplished before was undertaken.  Helen Thayer's Arctic Adventure: A Woman And A Dog Walk To The North Pole (Capstone Young Readers, an imprint of Capstone, March 1, 2016) written by Sally Isaacs with illustrations by Iva Sasheva portrays thrilling moments of this milestone adventure.  Attitude, preparation and determination fueled every step made.

Few people have walked to the magnetic North Pole. Especially alone.

When Helen Thayer was fifty years old she knew she wanted to walk three hundred sixty-four miles around the magnetic North Pole.  If she fulfilled this dream she would be the first woman to do this.  Prior to beginning this journey she prepared for two years.

Upon her arrival at a village in northern Canada a local bear hunter advised her strongly not to go alone.  His offer for the use of a dog team was turned down by Helen.  She did agree to take one dog, a dog comfortable with staying outside and guarding his humans from polar bears.  Helen called him Charlie.

For four days it was snow and ice, walking, eating and sleeping inside the tent with Charlie on watch.  On the fifth day terror struck the duo in the form of an angry polar bear.  The following attack left Helen unharmed but Charlie ran like the wind after the retreating bear.  Helen was now alone.  Was that a speck of black against the white horizon?

By day eight Charlie was no longer sleeping outside the tent but sharing a pillow with Helen at night.  Together they survived a storm lasting days and frightening cracks in the sea ice.  A truly terrifying event happened on the twentieth day causing Helen to not only wonder if they would succeed in reaching their goal but if they would live.  A photograph supplies the answer.  Buried in the ice in the northern realms is a small metal container filled with contents only Helen Thayer could have placed there.  One woman.  One dog.  One month in 1988.

As a result of extensive research including first person accounts in print and through phone conversations with Helen Thayer, author Sally Isaacs recreates an action-packed accounting of the expedition.  Specific details heighten the intensity of situations where survival hangs in a balance.  The use of numbering the days and a blend of conversation and narrative make this a more intimate experience for the reader.  Here is a sample passage.

Charlie jumped up.  Helen did too.  She peeked outside and gasped.
There was a long crack in the ice---only 5 feet (1.5 meters) from her tent door.
How could she leave?  The violent wind was hurling ice and snow.
How could she stay?  The crack was inching toward her tent.
If the ice broke under the tent, they would fall into the icy black water.

Artist Iva Sasheva depicts the harsh environment of the Arctic along with the persistent passion of Helen Thayer and Charlie on the front of the book case.  This scene moves over the spine to the left on the back with a vision of the endless sky, snow and ice.  The opening and closing endpapers are differing images of swirling flakes against the pale gray wintry sky and pale blue landscape below.  Beneath the text on the title page, we are given a bird's eye view of Helen and Charlie each pulling their respective sleds over the snow; Helen on skies and Charlie walking beside her.

These paintings by Sasheva are nearly photographic in their detail spanning single or double pages.  The text is tucked into each illustration.  Her color palette reflects the atmosphere of the region day and night along with the precarious balance maintained by Helen and Charlie between life and death and reaching their goal.  It's easy to imagine the silence except for the sound of Helen and Charlie moving over the ice and snow, the roar of the attacking polar bear, the deafening crack of breaking ice or the howling wind tossing about pieces of ice as if they are paper.

One of my favorite pictures is of Charlie being introduced to Helen as Tony stands nearby.  Helen is squatting in front of Charlie so they can assess each other eye to eye.  Behind them in the blowing snow are the buildings of the village.

You can't help but read Helen Thayer's Arctic Adventure:  A Woman And A Dog Walk To The North Pole written by Sally Isaacs with illustrations by Iva Sasheva as fast as you can turn the pages.  Once again readers will be astonished by the feat of a single individual who succeeded in being the first woman to reach the magnetic North Pole.  At that time she was also the oldest.  The text and images in this book take you to that place and time with Helen and Charlie as surely as if you were there.  When you finish this you will realize there is nothing you can't do.  At the end of the book is A Note from Helen Thayer, More About...Helen Thayer, More About...Charlie (this is particularly interesting), a Glossary, Read More books, Internet Sites, Discussion Questions and an Index.

To become more familiar with Sally Isaacs and Iva Sasheva please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At the publisher's website is a page with additional resources; three websites and five books.  At HistoryLink.org more fascinating information is available about Helen Thayer.  Trust me...you will be amazed.  Please enjoy these two additional videos.

Each week the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge leaves me more informed and wiser about people, animals, things and places than I was before reading these books.  Please take a moment to see the titles selected by other bloggers this week at Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.